Partner’s cancer is exhausting – for us both
Q: I hate to complain because it makes me feel guilty but I have no one else to talk to, so I want to get your input. Here’s what is going on. My love, for the last 15 years, has cancer and has had to undergo treatment. He was diagnosed with cancer 10 months ago, and our life has changed tremendously. We both retired about a year ago and had plans to travel, play golf, sail, garden, and generally enjoy ourselves. Well, since this has happened to Tim, our life is doctor appointments, tests, chemotherapy, his being sick and weak, then more chemo and being sick again. He just starts to feel a little better and it starts all over again. Then on top of the whole thing, he had to have surgery, which makes him even weaker. We are both scared that he won’t ever get over this, and life will never be normal again. Since we retired it seems like all we deal with is his cancer.
I am doing the entire caretaking and am so glad that I can do it, but it is exhausting. I’m on call 24/7, plus I now have to do all the housework, cooking and everything else it takes to run a house. We constantly have doctor appointments to go to, and spend a lot of time sitting and waiting. I don’t feel that I can complain to anyone, especially Tim. Tim already feels guilty and thinks he has ruined our lives so I can’t say anything to him; I don’t want to make him feel worse. He is, for the most part, being so brave about what is happening to him.
Our friends have no idea what I am going through. They all want to know how Tim is doing but no one asked me how I am doing. I feel selfish even saying all of this. I am so worried about Tim. I hate seeing him sick and weak and hurting so much. So when I say I am exhausted, I feel like I am not grateful for my health and ability to take care of the one I love. I wouldn’t have it any other way, really; I want to be there for him in whatever way I need to be. But I am feeling so burned out that I don’t know how much longer I can go on.
How can I be less selfish and just focus on Tim – and not on me?
Burned Out and Exhausted
A: First of all you are not being selfish by admitting you are feeling exhausted and burned out. The role of a caretaker is exhausting. I know, I have been there. My partner had cancer twice and I was the primary caretaker, so I understand too well what you are talking about – that is as much as one can know about another’s personal experience. I, too, felt exhausted and burned out during our bouts with cancer. Being a caretaker for one you love is not only physically exhausting but emotionally exhausting as well.
The first thing I would say is that you need to take care of yourself; you won’t be any good for Tim if you are burned out. Tell your friends what is going on and ask for what ever help you need, i.e. meals brought in, help with household chores, time away from Tim so you can pursue things that are rejuvenating for you.
Laughter is a great for soothing the soul, try renting funny films and watch them with Tim. Spend time with friends. Find a support group for caretakers. Talking to others who are dealing with the same issues that you are normalizes what you are feeling, and helps you feel less guilty. And it gives you an outlet to talk about the things that you feel and think without hurting Tim.
If there are no support groups in your area, go online. You will find there are several support groups for caretakers. I found an online group very helpful in dealing with my feelings.
Let me know how things are going. My heart goes out to you and Tim.